Economic Reconciliation

On Residential School Burial Sites

June 08, 2021 Updated March 2022

This is hard for me to write about. I have avoided it until now. But I feel ready to share. This story will be filled with tears, pain, sadness, anger and forgiveness and hopefully some healing along the way. I am a 1st generation child of residential school survivors. My parents, grandparents and great parents went to residential schools. My late father’s house is right beside the St Paul’s Indian Day School. Every time I go out the door, I look right at the building where many of my family and community members survived the brutality of these educational institutions.  The building which was St Paul’s Indian residential school, does not stand any more, but the new catholic school that now resides there is visible from my back deck.  This is how close this is to me, physically, emotionally, spiritually and my reality is face to face with it whenever I leave the house.

Soon, my Nation will embark on the journey of looking for unmarked graves of our lost children who may not have survived the above-mentioned educational institutions (for more information, please click on this link. As of August 2021, there have been 1,300+ unmarked graves found at five residential schools in Canada. These investigations began in May when it was announced that the remains of 215 children were recently found in an unmarked and undocumented burial site at the former grounds of the Kamloops Indian Residential School, located on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation territory (for more information on this, please click on this link. I couldn’t attend the announcement of my Nation’s investigation as it was just too hard to be present for it, even though my mom really wanted me to be there. Since this announcement in May, hundreds more unmarked graves have been identified across the country in the months since, with dozens of additional searches being planned or currently ongoing. For more information for these ongoing searches, please click on this link. I’m still working my way through the ongoing news of more and more burial sites being found with our family and community located in them.

When the news first came out from Kamloops, it was devastating and overwhelming. My husband, myself, and our son struggled with this reality for weeks. This could have been any of our parents or grandparents and was my aunts, who died from diseases from these schools.  The reality of this history became extremely real in a matter of seconds and weighed on me like a ton of bricks. I still struggle with holding space for myself to process the ongoing news of more graves of our children being found…I cry as I write this because it’s just that overwhelming to process emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically. Let alone hold space to comfort, support and guide my mother, a residential school survivor, who is processing this on a daily basis. As well as my husband, who went to the Indian Day School when he was just 5/6 years old. Lastly to support my teenage son who struggles to comprehend why anyone would want to do this his Cheecheeya (grandma), his families and his people.

This in addition to my current reality of my family and communities ongoing issues as Indigenous Peoples in Canada, which is a very long list and there isn’t enough space to list them all. But I will identify things like identity, cultural and language genocide, displacement from our land, addictions, health and mental health issues, poverty, housing crisis, compound and intergenerational trauma, racism, and the dire need for so much ongoing healing, forgiveness and support. There is so much more, but I won’t go there right now.

Despite how painful this has been and will be, I still find hope in my connection to my culture, families, communities, and Nations. I may not speak any of my languages but I think in it because that’s how I was raised.  My knowledge is embedded in my DNA and my ancestors live within me spiritually and I am a powerful woman and mother because I am Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) and Kwakwa̱ka̱ʼwakw. We are resilient peoples and I am raising my son to be the same and more. To demand more from his friends, allies, neighbors, and all Canadians to transform reconciliation through truth, education and ACTION by all levels of governments.  I will close with this question, how is the Federal Government going to reckon the uncovering of all these burial sites yet carry on governing Indigenous peoples as wards of the crown?